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Reflections on international collaboration: enthusiasm, commitment, resilience.

02 December 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rabeea Arif
Reflections on international collaboration: enthusiasm, commitment, resilience. It is all about dive

An interview with Shane Godbolt by Rabeea Arif

Shane Godbolt has worked in Health Information since 1972. Moving from Higher Education to the NHS in 1992, she created , with her new team, an innovative network of Health Libraries working collaboratively between the NHS and the Higher Education sector in London. Shane became first a Trustee,then Chair and from 2006 - 2016 until retirement, Director of the UK charity Partnerships in Health Information (Phi), which worked across sub Saharan Africa in collaboration with UK academic and NHS partners. Shane has always been a passionate advocate of a leadership role for local librarians in Africa in relieving poverty and improving health, a commitment that is reflected in the principles guiding Phi of African leadership, evidence-based practice and working directly with African organisations and networks. Shane is the founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal, Health Information and Libraries Journal.

The beginning of international working:

It all started in 1973 when Professor Frank N. Hogg OBE, the Founding Principal of the College of Librarianship, Aberystwyth, decided to start the first International Graduate Summer School for students and future library and archive leaders. Since our colleagues in commonwealth countries did not at that time have Masters or PhD programmes in library studies they were keen to come to the UK to pursue their higher education. David Matthews, a lecturer on the Overseas Masters programme approached me to run a summer programme for a few of these librarians and that is how some of my enduring international friendships began.

Some of these connections eventually developed into long-term partnerships; for example there is still a very strong relationship, built on visits, between the UK and Sierra Leone that focused on the concepts of evidence-based medicine, the training of librarians in information retrieval, and the development of training programmes for health students and workers.

At that time I was the Librarian at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School where we were doing pioneering work in the health libraries sector. At the same time the British Council was focusing on health libraries in India and Iran and as a result of my publications describing our innovative work, they contacted me with an invitation to run workshops in these countries.

Two kinds of international work resulted from these early days and continue now. Firstly hosting visitor programmes of various kinds and through various agencies, such as Phi, to the UK and secondly visiting international colleagues in their countries to run workshops and contribute to their conferences, such as the US Medical Library Association (MLA), European Association for Health Information and Libraries (EAHIL), Association for Health Information and Libraries in Africa (AHILA) and African Hospital Libraries (AHL).

The most memorable experiences

In 1977 I went to India for 3 weeks on a British Council funded trip to run workshops in health libraries. I had never been to a developing country and it was amazing. The first time you go your whole perspective changes and that’s a good thing – you realise that the world is not as you thought it was. You realise that it’s not “your” world; there are different worlds out there. When you go there as a librarian and not as a tourist, you realise they are your colleagues but sometimes they don’t get the same treatment as you do as a visiting professional colleague, and that’s sad.

In another one of my experiences I was delivering training in Mozambique and I learnt that professional meetings were an area requiring development. Despite lively debates, meetings did not always lead to agreed ways forward. I invited them to our meetings and encouraged reflection on different ways to resolve conflict-based situations. We experimented with ways of participating in conversations through the use of tools such as sticky notes and voting slips. In those days it was a very new way of working for our colleagues in Mozambique but one that led to focused discussions, decision-making and moving forward.

Attending my first AHILA conference in Mombasa in 2006 was an unforgettable experience. Phi‘s partnership working was expanding to become more strategic in nature and, with small grant funding from INASP, and following extensive planning, communication and co-ordination over a 4 year period a strategic plan was developed and adopted by AHILA’s General Assembly in 2010 in Burkina Faso.

One of the most important things to learn is that we make assumptions that, because we are well resourced we know how to do everything, which is just not true. Our international colleagues know themselves what is needed and have similar aspirations, they just do not always have the resources to deliver their vision. As INASP say “ ...locally generated knowledge and solutions are key to solving local and global challenges”. Friendships and partnerships help to get things off the ground.

Challenges and lessons learnt

A lovely thing that comes out of international collaboration and friendship is that when you start giving, you enlarge yourself. People just love sharing, even if it's only for half an hour. They love to hear what other people are doing and how are they doing it. Sharing ideas and perspective, experience and expertise can lead to a freshness of approach, mutual learning and divergent thinking in relation to service delivery.

Working internationally in times of austerity

In these days of pressure on funding and staff shortages we often wish for more money. Budget cuts are very real especially in public libraries – but then you meet someone from another country who tells you their electricity gets cut off mid-way through the day, and you reflect on what you have and this puts your circumstances into perspective. Sometimes you just need to tap into people’s enthusiasm and you will be amazed at the possibilities.

Part of Phi's success over the last 20 years is as a result of grasping opportunities to work with partners. Phi worked with CILIP, especially through its Health Libraries Group (HLG) and International Library & Information Group (ILIG) and with the University Health & Medical Librarians Group (UHMLG) in partnership with colleagues in Africa, especially those in Uganda, Kenya and Sierra Leone, and others in the UK These opportunities for collaborative working included delivering public access to health information workshops in association with International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), international colleagues taking up places on the critical appraisal skills training workshops provided by the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP), and resource management workshops in Zambia with THET Partnerships for Global Health. Phi’s perhaps most significant partnership involved AHILA, the Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA) based in South Africa and Phi, agreed through Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) in 2011/2, to provide an AHILA secretariat and support coordination of Phi’s work in Africa.

Networking was especially important for Phi which formed strong working relationships with professional library and information associations and individual professionals. This can still happen. You just ask people in your network and somebody says, “Sure, I’ll do it”, whether it is hosting an international visitor, mentoring, or helping towards sponsoring places at professional conferences or courses.


Top-tips and best practices

  • Think about international working as a whole different way of doing CPD. You are teaching and learning by role-modelling, by sharing good practice and learning new approaches to service delivery.
  • Join networks like CILIP’s ILIG and HLG and international networks like EAHIL and IFLA
  • International work and collaborative projects need to be from the grassroots and practical. At the same time, they need to be driven by the needs and wishes expressed by the community they are serving.
  • Don’t take the top-down approach of people flying in and telling other people how to do things. Co-develop, co-design and co-learn.
  • Incorporate current and relevant themes in your collaborative work. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are applicable to everybody and very important to the work of libraries and librarians globally.
  • Volunteer for initiatives such as the ILIG ‘Hosts directory’ so that you can have someone from a different culture live with you, you will learn a lot through that.
  • Don’t be afraid to pass the hat around, I know of a lot of people who have helped people wanting to take up international trips for attending a conference who are able to get a place on the conference but don’t have money to fund their ticket and accommodation.
  • Read an inspirational book. Recommendation for health professionals: Turning the World Upside Down: The Search for Global Health in the 21st Century by Lord Nigel Crisp.
  • Seek support from your employer/organisation by getting international partnership working as one of your annual objectives
  • Consider attending an international conference, such as the AHILA Conference
  • Seek guidance and support with Memoranda of Understanding e.g. get your legal team to check out any contracts and agreements with international partners.
  • Make sure any agreements are in line with your organisation’s objectives and ethical framework.

The following interview was conducted with Shane Godbolt in October of this year, just a few weeks before she passed away. CILIP sends condolences to her family, friends and her many colleagues who will have experienced first-hand her passion for libraries and belief that information has the power to improve lives. CILIP is grateful to Shane’s family for allowing us to publish this interview.

Banner image: Shane Godbolt, colleagues from the health libraries sector, and Commonwealth international fellows at the House of Lords reception for Phi (Partnerships in Health Information), 6 July 2015.

from left to right, front row: Folasade Lawal, Stella Anasi, Nicky Whitsed, Shane Godbolt, Blessing Mawire, Atai Okokon back row: Olalekan Agboola, Stuart Hamilton, Prof Derek Law, Jon Gregson


Published: 2 December 2019

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